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Proposed Penn Hall resort approved

Penn Hall Manor resort

Craig Wilson, far right, speaks to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors Aug. 16. Wilson and his wife, Angela, have plans to turn the tranquil Penn Hall Manor location into a resort.

A recently-approved resort project in Franklin County’s Union Hall District hopes to breathe new life into Penn Hall Manor.

The Appalachian Power Company sold Penn Hall, a 356-acre tract of land, in a December auction organized by Woltz & Associates. Craig and Angela Wilson purchased the land containing Penn Hall Manor for $1.5 million and an adjacent property for $165,000. A combined 26 acres, it will serve as the future home of a resort facility.

Plans are to nearly double the size of the existing 5,000-square-foot manor with a 4,750-square-foot addition, allowing it to accommodate living quarters for more than 26 occupants.

“Also on the proposed property there will be a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse. ... There also will be 33 cottages that will approximately 950 to 1,000 square feet. ... There will also be a 9,000-square-foot barn capable of accommodating 350 people. It will also have a tavern and a store on the lower floor. There will be a 1,200-square-foot outfitters shop located near the lake which will provide equipment for lake activities,” Lisa Cooper, Franklin County director of planning, said.

The shoreline may also feature two docks; one for events and the other containing 10 boat slips for guests. Vineyard and recreation areas are also possibilities.

At an Aug. 16 public hearing to get Franklin County Board of Supervisors approval for the project, Craig Wilson explained the project’s importance.

“Although I originally am not from this area, I grew up in a place just like Franklin County. It’s probably for that reason that, when my wife Angela and I, began coming to the lake many years ago, we immediately fell in love with the community,” Wilson said.

Once their youngest child, a senior in high school, graduates and the Wilsons become empty-nesters, Craig Wilson said they plan to relocate from Centerville to the lake.

Craig Wilson said building local relationships will be important.

“Not just with the board and the county, but the community at large; small businesses, farmers. ... We will be building partnerships with locals to be able to showcase local products — think of eggs and honey and meats, produce and arts and crafts,” Brandon Scott said.

Another member of Wilson’s team, Scott is a senior engineer and project manager at the civil engineering consulting company Earth Environmental and Civil.

Wilson added that he and his wife have plans to involve local schools and businesses to provide educational opportunities.

“My wife ... has her PhD in education from Virginia Tech and this project was simply not going to move forward without an educational component ... to bring educational internship and job opportunities to the area,” Wilson said.

Appalachian previously used the manor as a training center. Built in the 1940s, the manor predates even the dam that created Smith Mountain Lake.

“We’re very cognizant of the importance of Penn Hall to this community and we want to preserve the defining characteristics of that house, but also ... give a rejuvenation that gives it some new life,” Kevin Schafer, a studio director with Charlottesville Design Develop architecture firm, said.

Schafer said the project is, so far, broken into two broad phases.

“The first phase ... is around Penn Hall Manor itself, specifically, and renovating that,” Schafer said.

It may also include the two most northern cottage clusters, the clubhouse, pool and recreation area.

The site does not currently have water or sewer capable of meeting a resort’s demands. The Western Virginia Water Authority does not currently provide adequate public water and sewer services to the site, Scott indicated.

To get the project moving now, Scott said, water and sewer systems will need to be located on site.

“We have contacted VDH [the Virginia Department of Health] regarding current wells on site, current drain fields that we have. ... We would rather look at low-impact development on this ... and more of a residential style so that we can avoid some of those larger systems. We are looking at options for pre-treatments of sanitary as well as treatment of water on-site,” Scott said.

Scott said the on-site systems will be built with the potential of connecting to Western Virginia’s network at some point in the future.

At its July 12 meeting, the Franklin County Planning Commission approved the special use permit 6-1, with Cheryl Ege, Gills Creek District representative, against. Ege argued that the resort does not fit the area’s agricultural zoning designation and should be rezoned rather than allowed to exist through a special use permit.

On July 12, a couple of residents also shared concerns about the resort’s traffic impact on nearby Kemp Ford and Penn Hall roads. At the planning commission meeting, Cooper said the Virginia Department of Transportation will need to do a traffic survey if the project is approved. If VDOT finds that upgrades are necessary, the resort will have to foot the bill.

Before the unanimous Aug. 16 vote to approve the special use permit request, several supervisors congratulated Wilson and praised his vision for the property. Chief among them was Tommy Cundiff, who represents the Union Hall District where the resort will be located.

“I’ve walked the property, I’ve talked to Mr. Wilson and his group and I am highly — and I don’t use this word lightly — I am highly impressed at what they’re doing. I think they’re doing it the correct and right way and I just really appreciate that you’ve picked this area to develop your dream, and I thank you so much,” Cundiff said.

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